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Playing Detective: Mysterious Transmissions

March 30, 2023 Archive Insight
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The Henry Ford’s radio collections hold a variety of strange-looking objects, many with hidden purposes, including a radio receiver that was used during “space” travelers Jeannette and Jean Piccard’s stratospheric balloon ascension near The Henry Ford in 1934. Photo by Trevor Naud  THF155560

In my own collection as The Henry Ford’s curator of communications and information technology, there are many objects with lively backstories. The radio collections alone are rife with curiosities: a WWI-era field radio used in a 1924 experiment to “listen” to Mars. Another radio shares similarities with the 1901 Sweepstakes race car — a 1905 Telimco radio created by the eccentric science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback was once believed to be a replica but is now understood to be an original. Espionage radios too: a muddy-looking lump of clay with a secret homing beacon inside that is meant to look like tiger scat or “dog doo.”

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T-1151 Doo Radio Transmitters, circa 1970. Photo by Trevor Naud / THF189735

These joke shop antics may seem humorous but quickly reveal an ominous angle as further research determined that these transmitters were used for reconnaissance by the CIA during the Vietnam War.

This post was adapted from an article written by Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communication & information technology with photos by Trevor Naud, in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

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